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Kosovo elections: ‘Most significant change’ in 12 years, Security Council hears

Zahir Tanin, the head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), told Council members that preliminary results pointed to an opposition victory, with coalition talks underway. Most voters had decided to “rally behind unconventional political candidates”, signifying a break with the past. 

Kosovo, which has an ethnic-Albanian majority, broke away from Serbia in a bloody conflict which began in 1998, with the Security Council authorizing temporary administrative powers to the UN, in 1999.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence a decade later, backed by the United States and United Kingdom, among others. But Serbia, backed diplomatically by Russia, has never accepted the split, and Kosovo has not achieved full member status at the United Nations.

The election was called in July, when outgoing Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, resigned in the face of new war crimes proceedings, according to news reports. He was a former commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) which fought for independence from Serbia and was twice acquitted under former proceedings in The Hague.

With his governing coalition split, he sparked a trade war with Serbia and Bosnia and Herzogovina a year ago, by introducing a 100 per cent tariff on goods, stalling any political progress.

Mr. Tanin said that the elections had been “assessed positively” by international observers, although there had been cases of voter intimidation and campaign finance violations in the Serb-majority areas.

New leadership must deliver for the people

He told members he was “hopeful that the new leadership can use the momentum of this election to deliver on it’s promises to the people, by advancing the rule of law, fighting corruption and organized crime, and tackling unemployment.”

He added that the international community also expects new political leaders to “affirm their commitment to the negotiations with Belgrade and ensure that obstacles to dialogue are removed.”

He said particular efforts should be made to tone down political rhetoric and actions in order to kickstart talks between Belgrade and Pristina, “after a year of stalled negotiations.”

The UNMIK chief welcomed the international community’s “continuous efforts” to push talks forward. “While I am convinced that an agreement between Belgrade and Pristina can be sustainable only if it is based on responsible action and local ownership of the process, it is also imperative that during this transition in Kosovo, the international community stands united and firm in its support toward a viable agreement.”

Thursday’s Daily Brief: The power of mediation, Southern Africa food crisis, urban deaths, climate meeting update and Iraq protest latest

Syria’s groundbreaking constitutional talks: ‘a clear success of mediation’ says Guterres in Turkey

Mediation is “one of our most important tools to reduce and end conflict”, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told the sixth Istanbul Mediation Conference, in the Turkish capital on Thursday.

Elaborating on the “positive results” that mediation and dialogue can bring, he referred to signs of progress by Syrian leaders who are meeting in Geneva after nearly nine years of brutal civil war, as “no clearer illustration of the importance of political solutions to conflict”. 

Read the full story here.

Severe food insecurity alert for 45 million people across Southern Africa

Forty-five million people in southern Africa are expected to face severe food insecurity in the next six months as the worst drought in decades continues to bite, the World Food Programme has warned.

In an attempt to boost aid efforts and international awareness ahead of the lean season, WFP said that the 16-nation region has seen normal rainfall in just one of the last five growing seasons.

On top of that, back-to-back cyclones and flooding have destroyed harvests and left communities even more vulnerable.

Nine countries are of particular concern: Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, Eswatini and Lesotho.

The agency’s Margaret Malu, who’s the acting Regional Director for Southern Africa, has called for help to meet the “emergency food and nutrition needs” of millions of people.

She also wants investment to help people withstand “ever more frequent and severe droughts, floods and storms”.

According to the International Panel on Climate Change, Southern Africa’s temperatures are rising at twice the global average.

Rights experts call for release of Palestinian hunger striker

A Palestinian hunger-striker who was held in solitary confinement in Israel for more than a month, should be released immediately, UN-appointed independent rights experts said on Thursday.

In a statement, the six experts said that Heba Al-Labadi was arrested by Israeli soldiers in Jenin, in the West Bank, in late August.

She then faced 30 days of interrogation for up to 20 hours a day, they say, before being sentenced to five months’ detention, without being told the charges or evidence against her.

Following sentencing, Ms. Al-Labadi launched a hunger strike, which is in its sixth week. She was transferred to hospital last Sunday, suffering from several medical conditions.

In an appeal to the Israeli authorities to free her, the rights experts highlighted that while administrative detention is not prohibited under international law, its widespread use in Israel was “incompatible” with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

New WHO report targets leading causes of urban deaths

Cities are home to more than half of the people on earth, 40 million of whom die every year from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and lung disease.

Now, in a bid to tackle these preventable diseases – and take on another urban killer, road accidents – the UN health agency has come up with a 10-point blueprint for safe cities.

It’s been inspired by successful policies already in place around the world, from smoke-free measures in Bogor, Indonesia to road safety initiatives in Ghana’s Accra.

A “walkable streets” plan in New York city is also highlighted by the World Health Organization, which says that it reduced elderly pedestrian fatalities by 16 per cent. The report was supported by WHO Global Ambassador and former long-term New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

It highlights how cities in the developing world are where 85 per cent of all non-communicable disease deaths happen, and where almost all fatal road traffic accidents occur.

WHO researchers say that the economic benefits for low and middle-income countries could be at least $350 billion.

Spain offers to host COP25 after Chilean withdrawal

Inundated with massive protests, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced on Wednesday that Santiago would not be able to host the UN climate summit in December.

However, thanks to “a generous offer of support” from Spain, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said in a statement on Thursday that the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) could now be held in Madrid “on the same dates as originally planned”.

 “We are hopeful that the COP Bureau can consider this proposed solution as soon as possible”, Ms. Espinosa asserted. “It is encouraging to see countries working together in the spirit of multilateralism to address climate change, the biggest challenge facing this and future generations”.

The 11-day conference aims to bring together delegates from 190 countries to discuss how to reduce global carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

Iraq at ‘a crossroads’

As demonstrations continue across Iraq, UN Special Representative Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert has been talking to some protesters, noting on Thursday that “women, men, the young and the elderly” are all “united under the Iraqi flag in their love for their country”.

Arguing that democracy has “given Iraqis the right to have their voices heard and to hold their leaders to account”, she observed that “today Iraq stands at a crossroads”.

“Progress through dialogue” is the only way, she reiterated, or face “divisive inaction”.

Advocating for public national dialogue to bring Iraqis together for an inclusive, stable and prosperous country, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert underscored that “full access to all information, facts and figures will prove key”.  

The Special Representative recalled the UN’s recent 74th anniversary celebration, noting that its fundamental principles “are more important than ever: ‘to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights’ and ‘to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom’”.

“Iraq is in the United Nations, and the United Nations is in Iraq”, she concluded. “Today we stand by your side and are ready, if called upon, to bring together all parties and move forward on a roadmap that meets the legitimate demands of the Iraqi people.”

Listen to or download our audio News in Brief for 31 October on SoundCloud:  


Syria’s groundbreaking constitutional talks: ‘a clear success of mediation’ says Guterres in Turkey

Elaborating on the “positive results” that mediation and dialogue can bring, he referred to signs of progress by Syrian leaders who are meeting in Geneva after nearly nine years of brutal civil war, as “no clearer illustration of the importance of political solutions to conflict”. 

“Yesterday’s first meeting of the Constitutional Committee was a landmark, a foundation for progress, and in itself a clear success of mediation”, he said, referring to face-to-face talks between the Syrian Government and opposition for the first time since 2011.

Mr. Guterres expressed his hope that this would be the first real step towards a political solution to “end this tragic chapter in the lives of the Syrian people” and create an opportunity for the voluntary, safe return of all Syrians to their places of origin.

Around 13.1 million Syrians are in need, with 6.6 million internally-displaced, around three million still in hard-to-reach and besieged areas, while over 5.6 million have fled the country since 2011, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
While welcoming dialogue to end the most recent fighting in the country’s northeast, Mr. Guterres told the conference he remained “very concerned” about the situation in Idlib, to the west, and repeated his call for “maximum restraint, de-escalation and the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure on all fronts in Syria”.

He lauded other positive mediation and dialogue results, particularly in African countries, and urged everyone to “build on this success”.

Changing conflicts

Turning to the wider geopolitics, the UN chief noted that divisions in the international community are contributing to unpredictability and insecurity – negatively impacting mediators who rely “on the political will of governments and armed groups that are parties to the fighting”.

“Now they must also work for the alignment of outside powers, as today’s conflicts are likely to have regional and international involvement.” Moreover, populism and marginalization are contributing to radicalization, instability, violence and suffering, he added.

Even in some peaceful societies, leaders are fueling tensions without care for the consequences – UN chief

“Even in some peaceful societies”, he observed, “leaders are fueling tensions without care for the consequences”.

Mr. Guterres maintained that mediation addresses both the root causes and consequences of conflict, which are “vital to prevent violence recurring”.

Coordinating mediation

The UN chief said more coordination was needed with regional organizations, civil society groups and others involved in mediation.

“Resolving today’s complex conflicts means bringing together the three tracks of mediation in a coordinated way: track one, comprising political and military leadership, supplemented by unofficial and informal contacts at the track two level to test ideas; and track three, to widen the process, including civil society and grassroots initiatives”, he spelled out.
While underscoring the importance of women’s participation in formal peace processes and the contribution of youth, he highlighted “strategic and operational mediation partnerships”, citing the African Union’s  as “exemplary” in reaching countries across the continent.

And yet, “despite the growing number of groups involved, a relatively small proportion of conflicts receive mediation”, he bemoaned, urging everyone to “find the resources to engage across the board”.

Directing attention to social media and digital technologies, the UN chief flagged that while they can improve outreach and inclusivity, they also “create serious challenges for mediation”, and singled out online hate speech, misinformation campaigns and manipulating content to create poisonous narratives.

Mr. Guterres recalled that the UN was created almost 75 years ago “to save the world from the scourge of war” and urged everyone to “do all in our power to end the meaningless cycle of destruction and reconstruction”.

Technology Bank

UN Photo/Emrah Gruel | Secretary-General António Guterres (2nd left) pays a visit to the UN Technology Bank along with Mustafa Varank, Turkish Minister of Industry and Technology, in Gebze, Turkey. (31 October 2019) 

The Secretary-General also visited the Turkish-headquartered UN Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries on Thursday, calling it “a positive sign of hope and a direct response to the 2030 Agenda’s promise to leave no one behind”.

In order to bridge the so-called digital divide for the two billion people still not connected to the internet, the bank opened for business in the city of Gebze, last year. It is funded entirely from extra-budgetary resources and relies on voluntary contributions.

Mr. Guterres asserted that as it establishes partnerships both within and outside the UN system, the Bank was improving coordination for science and technology innovation across Least Developed Countries and will play an important role in South-South collaboration, for the whole developing world.

Climate experts pledge to scale up high-altitude fight against mountain melt

In a call for action at the end of this week’s High Mountain Summit to tackle the global warming causing glaciers to retreat, along with snow fields, permafrost and associated ecosystems – collectively called the cryosphere – the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and partners announced they would step up commitments on the issue of water security and natural disasters linked to melting ice in mountain regions.

Changes across the world’s peaks are altering the cryosphere, and impacting the flow of freshwater, which meets the needs of more than half of humanity – they are, in effect, “water towers of the world”.

In addition, the problem of disappearing ice caps is stretching from mountainsides to urban communities downstream, as glacial melt-dependent pastures becomes parched, and avalanches, floods and other disasters snuff out lives and weaken local economies. 

WMO pledged to lead the effort to stop the trend at the conclusion of the three-day summit in Geneva, to address these changes to water systems and supply.

To improve high mountain observations that could better-forecast potential disasters and prompt lifesaving action, WMO will provide leadership and guidance in an Integrated High Mountain Observation and Prediction Initiative as part of its call to action, entitled “Avoiding the Impending Crisis in Mountain Weather, Climate, Snow, Ice and Water: Pathways to a Sustainable Global Future.”

The initiative to boost climate disaster prediction and resilience is a tool that will help in “tackling the climate crisis, evaporating snow and ice, and water-related stress.”

WMO said that sustainable mountain development and ecosystem conservation should be “integral” in international development policy, and in addition, more transboundary data sharing and prediction communications will be critical in safeguarding high mountain regions. 

One of the world’s greatest challenges

More than 150 summit participants from around the globe highlighted the natural hazard and water insecurity impacts of glacial snow melt in their communities.

In Switzerland, glaciers have lost 10 per cent of their volume in the last five years, two per cent of which diminished in the last year alone. By the end of the century, 90 per cent of the nation’s remaining 4,000 ice sheets may melt, the Swiss Federal Councillor revealed. 

The summer of 2019 saw such intense heat waves, the equivalent of Switzerland’s annual drinking water consumption melted from its glaciers in just 15 days.

Water security is becoming “one of the greatest challenges of the world’s population” the summit declaration says, “and the uncertainties on the availability of freshwater from mountain rivers is a significant factor of risk for local and downstream ecosystems, agriculture, forestry, food production, fisheries, hydropower production, transportation, tourism, recreation, infrastructure, domestic water supply, and human health.”

International observations show an acceleration in the retreat of 31 major glaciers in the past two decades. But lack of sufficient data hinders reliable monitoring. 

The summit noted the scarcity of meteorological, cryosphere and related observations in mountain regions, but stressed the potential of space-based surveillance.

A September report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), outlined the growing burden of the changing climate, its strain on water systems and the impacts on various species, livelihoods and economies, which served as the springboard for the summit dialogue.  

From ‘strength to strength’ UN-African Union security partnership growing, Security Council hears

“The partnership between the African Union and the United Nations continues to grow from strength to strength”, Hanna Tetteh, Special Representative and Head of the UN Office to the AU told the Chamber via videolink.  

In introducing the Secretary-General’s annual report on the partnership, she elaborated on a various mechanisms based on the 2018 Joint UN-AU Framework for an Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security. 

Ms. Tetteh also highlighted joint field visits and consultations between the Security Council and the AU’s Peace and Security Council and noted some “major challenges” that need to be addressed, including workable funding for AU peace operations. 

Meanwhile, in her video briefing, AU Ambassador Fatima Kyari Mohammed described the burgeoning cooperation between the two organizations, noting that their combined efforts have contributed to positive recent developments in Sudan, following its major political upheavals this year.

She pointed out that both organizations also prioritize the accelerated implementation of the new 17 August Constitutional Declaration on the full transition from military to civilian rule.

Ms. Mohammed asserted that the two organizations should enhance joint work in technical areas, such as mission planning, financial management and accountability for peace operations. 

Following their briefings, Council members similarly welcomed the growing collaboration between the Security Council and the AU’s Peace and Security Council and called for strengthening the relationship further.

For more on this story, go to our Meetings Coverage Section here.

Wednesday’s Daily Brief: Iraq protests, ‘historic’ Syria talks, Chile pulls out of COP25, Guinea-Bissau, South Sudan, new nuclear watchdog chief

‘Historic’ new Syria talks should focus on relief for war-weary civilians, says UN negotiator

Work on drafting a new foundational text for war-torn Syria officially began at the UN in Geneva on Wednesday with representatives from the Syrian Government and opposition sitting face to face and preparing to discuss the country’s future for the first time in the nearly nine-year conflict.

Addressing the delegations – as well as a third group representing Syrian civil society – UN Special Envoy, Geir Pedersen, urged them to seize the “historic” opportunity of working together, for the sake of the Syrian people.

Get the full story here.

Iraq protests: UN calls for national talks to break ‘vicious cycle’ of violence

The UN’s most senior official in Iraq, visited protesters in central Baghdad on Wednesday, calling for “a national dialogue to identify prompt, meaningful responses to break the vicious cycle of violence”, which has roiled the country during the past five days.

Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, said she had gone to Tahrir Square to engage with the people, and listen to their concerns, as part of the UN’s continuous efforts to promote dialogue with the Government, as news reports suggest that Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, is facing growing calls to resign.

Here’s our full story.

Chile pulls out of hosting major COP25 climate conference in December

Citing the impact of on-going anti-Government protests, Chile announced on Wednesday that it was withdrawing as host of the upcoming COP25 annual climate summit, which is due to begin in early December.

In a brief statement, the UN Climate change Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, said that she had been informed of Chile’s decision “not to host COP25 in view of the difficult situation that the country is undergoing”, adding that the secretariat she runs, the UNFCCC, would begin exploring “alternative hosting options”, for the world’s biggest annual conference addressing climate change issues.

The President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, also phoned the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, with the news.

The Government also announced it would no longer host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, APEC, which was due to take place in the capital Santiago from 15-17 November, due to security concerns.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Chile nearly two weeks ago, demanding an end to social inequality, rising prices, and better public services. Eighteen people have reportedly died, and 7,000 have been arrested during the rioting, amid allegations of human rights abuses by security forces.

Reparations for sexual violence in conflict – ‘what survivors want most, yet receive least’

Ten years ago, the UN Security Council established a mandate to prevent and address the scourge of conflict-related sexual violence. At a commemorative event on Wednesday, the UN deputy chief described that commitment as essential to “highlight, prevent and seek justice for this crime”.

The 2009 mandate had “sent a clear message that sexual violence during times of upheaval and conflict is not the inevitable collateral of war but a horrific violation of human rights and international law”, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed spelled out.

Full coverage, here.

UN chief voices ‘serious concern’ over Guinea-Bissau political crisis

The Secretary-General has responded with “serious concern” to developments in Guinea-Bissau, following the firing of the country’s Prime Minister on Monday by President José Mário Vaz, who announced a replacement on Tuesday.

With less than one month to go before the country’s presidential elections, António Guterres called on all political stakeholders to abide by decisions taken by the West African States regional body, ECOWAS, which has sought to find lasting solutions to chronic political instability in Guinea-Bissau since its independence from Portugal in 1974.

IOM suspends South Sudan Ebola screening, after death of volunteers

The UN migration agency (IOM) on Wednesday condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the killing of three of its aid workers in South Sudan’s Morobo County, who were working as volunteers at Ebola screening points along the country’s border, sparked by the more than year-long outbreak in the Democratic in the Congo, or DRC.

Two male, and one female humanitarian worker, were caught in crossfire during clashes that broke out in the morning hours of 27 October.

IOM has since suspended Ebola Virus screening points at five points of entry to the country, namely Isebi, Bazi, Kirikwa, Lasu and Okaba – bordering points between South Sudan and Uganda, and the DRC.

UN nuclear agency appoints new Director-General

Ambassador Rafael Grossi is set to take office as Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in early December, following his appointment to the post by the Agency’s Board of Governors on Wednesday.

A career diplomat with over 35 years of professional experience in non-proliferation and disarmament, Mr. Grossi is currently Argentina’s Ambassador to Austria and the country’s Permanent Representative to the Vienna-based International Organizations, including the IAEA.

Mr. Grossi will be the IAEA’s sixth head since it was founded in 1957 and was appointed by acclamation to serve for four years.

He follows Yukiya Amano of Japan, who passed away last July.

Listen to or download our audio News in Brief for 30 October on SoundCloud:  

Listen to or download our audio interview with Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery:

Reparations for sexual violence in conflict – ‘what survivors want most, yet receive least’

The 2009 mandate had “sent a clear message that sexual violence during times of upheaval and conflict is not the inevitable collateral of war but a horrific violation of human rights and international law”, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed spelled out.

She said the international community had been galvanized by the 2009 decision to intensify advocacy and action to end wartime rape and the social stigmatization of survivors, as threats to security and inclusive peace.


“In the past decade the United Nations has responded to the demands of victims and survivors by creating a global normative framework and a set of institutional arrangements”, Ms. Mohammad said, elaborating on Council resolutions, investigative mechanisms and the establishment of the Office of the Special Representative.

Survivors first

That job currently held by Pramila Patten, the UN’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (SRSG-SVC), who officially launched a new Global Fund for Survivors at Wednesday’s event.

During her visits to diverse, war-torn countries, Ms. Patten relayed that survivors had consistently demanded “above all else” that the perpetrators be brought to justice; and that they be provided with material assistance to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

“Reparations are what survivors want most, yet receive least”, she said. “The dawn of a new decade for this mandate is the time to deliver on these demands, and to put survivors first”.

The fund will provide reparations for survivors of conflicts around the world.

She underscored that a survivor-centered, rights-based response “means giving voice and choice to survivors, restoring their agency, building their resilience and enshrining their experience on the historical record”, in short, resuming “the quiet miracle of a normal life, which so many of us take for granted”.

In closing, Ms. Patten encouraged those present to “seize this moment to set the stage for a new decade of decisive action to remove sexual violence from our daily headlines and relegate it – once and for all – to the annals of history”.

Peacekeepers need training

Meanwhile, representing event co-host, South Africa, Dr. Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, spoke eloquently on the need for a multidisciplinary, multisectoral approach to protect the most vulnerable – both in times of conflict and peace.

Citing her own country, she pointed out that “the conflict and violence of Apartheid increased violence of toxic masculinity”, which underscored the need to strengthen law enforcement mechanisms; promote social cohesion; protect and reaffirm the rights of victims and survivors; and provide support to those affected by violence.

She advocated for more research to “have a deeper understanding” of the factors that lead to violence and to end the scourge of violence against women, saying “I don’t think we yet are doing enough”.

Noting South Africa’s significant involvement in peacekeeping operations, Dr. Pandor said “it has been most troubling that…some of our armed forces have been involved in sexual and gender-based violence”.

Calling it “a shame for our country”, she stressed that “if we deploy uniform services in any part of the world…they must be trained to understand that they are there to protect”.

Recounting the testimony of a uniformed woman who “had been kidnapped by men in Darfur and faced the threat of rape”, the South African Minister drew attention to gender-based violence also faced by women peacekeepers, soldiers and police in conflict situations.

Nobel laureates add support

Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege also spoke in support of the Global Fund.

“Our meaningful insights should be involved”, said UN Goodwill Ambassador Ms. Murad, a Yazidi woman who was herself raped by ISIL extremists in Iraq, who enslaved thousands. “Survivors need to be part of the solution.”

Noting that the fund is not a substitute for justice, and that “criminals have to pay for their act”, Congolese gynecologist Dr. Mukwege, a vocal advocate against gender-based violence, said that “the Global Survivors Fund establishes a direct way for survivors to have access to reparations” and “will change individuals, families, and communities all around the world”.

‘Historic’ new Syria talks should focus on relief for war-weary civilians, says UN negotiator

Addressing the delegations – as well as a third group representing Syrian civil society – UN Special Envoy, Geir Pedersen, urged them to seize the “historic” opportunity of working together, for the sake of the Syrian people.

Potential new beginning

“The future constitution belongs to Syrians, to the Syrian people and them alone,” he said, adding: “Today could become the beginning of something new, something meaningful for Syria and for Syrians everywhere. And this will be led by you, and you only, as both Co-Chairs have emphasized. Together, we can make this come through; tomorrow, the hard work begins.”

UN Photo/Violaine Martin
UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen chairs the first face-to-face talks between Government and opposition to take place during the nearly nine-year Syria conflict, as the Syrian Constitutional Committee meeting in Geneva got underway, 30 October.

According to the rules of procedure in these UN-facilitated discussions, meetings of the 150-member Committee will take place in parallel with a smaller “drafting group”, made up of 15 people from each of the three delegations.

It will be tasked with writing any new constitution, depending on what is voted on by the larger Committee.

Mr. Pedersen highlighted that the existing Syrian constitution could be re-examined, in line with UN Security Council resolution 2254, adopted unanimously on 18 December 2018, in New York.

“The Constitutional Committee may review the 2012 constitution including in the context of other Syrian constitutional experiences and amend the current constitution or draft a new constitution,” he said, adding that it was “the first political agreement between the Government and the Opposition to begin to implement a key aspect of Security Council resolution 2254, which called for setting a schedule and a process for drafting a new constitution.” 


In addition to endorsing a road map for a negotiated peace between belligerents, the UN Security Council resolution also called for a nationwide ceasefire and free and fair elections, as part of a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned political transition.

Ahead of the official convening of the 150-member body at the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva, the organization’s Secretary-General, António Guterres, welcomed the fact that both the Government of Syria and the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission “will sit together and take the first step on the political path out of the tragedy of the Syrian conflict”.

The UN chief also welcomed the fact that women’s representation on the committee was “very near 30 per cent”, a “minimum threshold” that the UN has long pushed for, in the interests of representing the widest possible number of Syrians affected by the conflict.

‘Positive change’ on the agenda

In his comments to the forum, the Government of Syria Co-Chair, Ahmad Kuzbari, expressed an openness to reviewing the country’s existing foundational text, the latest dating from 2012.

“It is a modern constitution,” he said, “but that does not prevent us Syrians from meeting for the purpose of considering any possible amendments to the current constitution or to consider a new constitution that would improve our reality and bring about a positive change that can be directly reflected in the lives of our people.”

And while Mr. Kuzbari underscored the fact that the Government was “committed to the success of this part of the political process”, he warned against “any occupying forces on our territory, the spoliation of the resources of our country and the continuing imposition of unilateral economic sanctions”.

These elements could threaten “the entire political process”, he said, insisting that they also breached the UN Charter and international legitimacy.

Looking for similarities, not differences

From the opposition, Committee Co-Chair, Hadi Albahra, underscored his delegation’s desire for progress in negotiations, noting nonetheless that “the 150 people meeting today in this room have diverging opinions on many issues”.

Be that as it may, “after eight painful years of suffering in Syria, we came here determined to look for similarities and not differences”, Mr. Albahra said, highlighting that the conflict had claimed one million lives and displaced millions more. “We are fully aware of the aspirations of a whole nation that awaits salvation from unspeakable suffering.”

He also appealed for progress on other confidence-building measures on the ground in Syria, particularly the release of prisoners – or information about them.

“We must achieve the release of all detainees at the hands of all parties and to discover the fate of the missing and the forcibly displaced, we must respect the right of families to know the fate of their loved ones,” he said. 

Work through consensus

While acknowledging that “it is not easy for all of you to be here together” after nearly nine years of violent conflict, Mr. Pedersen expressed his gratitude to each delegate for agreeing to attend the negotiations, which are due to continue on Thursday.

Calling on all those present to show patience and persistence in agreeing on a new foundational text, the Special Envoy insisted that it could “help heal the wounds of a devastating conflict and indeed establish the foundations for a new co-existence”.

The Committee Co-Chairs were “equal” and “will need to work together…in consensus”, the UN negotiator continued, as would the smaller 45-member drafting body.

“Your duties of course are not only to your own side, but to all members of the Committee,” Mr. Pedersen said, without detailing any deadlines, while underscoring the need to include the third group representing Syrian civil society – known as the Middle Third – in all discussions.

Iraq protests: UN calls for national talks to break ‘vicious cycle’ of violence

Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, said she had gone to Tahrir Square to engage with the people, and listen to their concerns, as part of the UN’s continuous efforts to promote dialogue with the Government, as news reports suggest that Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, is facing growing calls to resign.

More than 220 have reportedly been killed across Iraq since the first anti-Government protests began at the start of October. Some protesters have ignored a curfew, and are demanding better public services, more job opportunities and an end to alleged large-scale corruption.

In a statement released by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, UNAMI, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert, said that the whole of Iraqi society needed to “unite against the perils of division and inaction. Standing together, Iraqis can find the common ground needed to shape a better future for all”.

She also told protesters that “no government could comprehensively tackle the legacy of the past, and the present challenges, in just one year in office.”

On Tuesday, she released a forceful statement condemning all violence saying that it was “never the answer, the protection of life is the overriding imperative.” She condemned the alarming reports that live fire had been used against demonstrators in the Shia stronghold of Kerbala, causing a “high number of casualties”. News reports say that up to 18 had died, with hundreds injured, but officials have denied there were any fatalities.

Brutal and ‘heart-breaking’ use of force against demonstrators

In a press release from a group of independent UN human rights experts released on Tuesday, they called on the Government and security forces to “prevent and cease violence immediately” against protesters, and ensure that those responsible for the “unlawful use of force are investigated and prosecuted.”

Experts said that during the earlier week of protest from 1-9 October, security personnel had used live fire, rubber bullets and armoured vehicles, coupled with the “indiscriminate use” of tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades.

Since 25 October, Iraqi security forces, particularly in Baghdad, appear to have shown more restraint than in the earlier demonstrations, however, reports continue of excessive use of less lethal means, causing injuries and some deaths, said the experts.

The situation in some southern governorates, in which armed individuals have used live fire against demonstrators while protecting political offices requires urgent attention, they added.

“We express our utter dismay at the use of excessive force and violence by Iraqi security forces and other armed elements against demonstrators,” said the experts. “It is incomprehensible – and heart-breaking – that such a brutal response can be levelled against Iraqis simply wanting to express their rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.”

“The Iraqi State has a duty to protect those exercising their right to peaceful assembly, including from violent non-state actors”, they concluded.

UN calls for shipping ‘propulsion revolution’ to avoid ‘environmental disaster’

If emissions from the maritime industry are not cut, we are headed for “an environmental disaster”, Isabelle Durant, the deputy head of the UN trade body, UNCTAD, told the Global Maritime Forum summit on Wednesday.

Her views were echoed by the UN shipping agency IMO, whose spokesperson, Lee Adamson, told UN News in an exclusive interview that current levels of emissions from shipping are “not acceptable”, and the industry needs a “new propulsion revolution”, to completely cut emissions from the sector.

For hundreds of years, shipping has been one of the most important methods of connecting the world, and, even today, it is crucial to international commerce, and linking nations and communities. It key role is only likely to grow, along with a major increase in global trade and maritime transport.

According to the IMO, shipping will be essential to the UN’s vision for sustainable development, providing a dependable, energy-efficient and low-cost way to transport more than 80 per cent of the world’s trade.

Avoiding a bunker fuel mentality

Nevertheless, the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the sector are significant and, according to the World Bank, the sector has not kept pace with other forms of transport, when it comes to climate action. The World Bank estimates that a single large shipping vessel, produces as much sulphur as 50 million cars.

At around 800 million tonnes per year, the industry as a whole is responsible for approximately 2.2 per cent of all global emissions.

Speaking at a plenary panel on the importance of drastically reducing maritime emissions, Ms. Durant said that the maritime industry is heavily reliant on a form of liquid fuel (so-called “bunker fuel”) that has a high carbon footprint. Global seaborne trade is expected to double over the next twenty years, which means that it is imperative to make sure ships are powered in a way that is much more sustainable.

This is why the UN is leading a number of projects aimed at significantly cutting emissions and, eventually, phasing them out altogether.

A container ship unloads at the port of Gioia Tauro in Italy ©MSC shipping

At the Global Maritime Forum’s Annual Summit, taking place in Singapore, Ms. Durant and colleagues launched UNCTAD’s 2019 Review of Maritime Transport, which confirmed the necessity of a drive towards environmental sustainability, and noted that technological disruption and climate change have had a major impact on the shipping over the last decade.

Some companies are calling for financing to be unlocked to develop zero-emission vessels.

Mr. Adamson explained to UN News how the IMO is helping to make this a reality: “In 2018, IMO Member States adopted an initial strategy for cutting GHG emissions from shipping and phasing them out entirely, as soon as possible. There’s a specific linkage to the Paris Agreement on climate change, and clear levels of ambition – including at least a 50 per cent cut in emissions from the sector by 2050, compared to 2008.”

Mr. Adamson added that, given the expected rise in trade and transport, ships currently at sea will have to cut their emissions by some 80 per cent and, by 2030, newly-built ships will need to be completely emission-free: “the strategy is expected to drive a new propulsion revolution. There is a need to make zero-carbon ships commercially more attractive, and to direct investments towards innovative sustainable technologies, and alternative low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels”.

The status quo is not acceptable because of the impact of ship emissions, and that has its own cost which is also borne by society – Lee Adamson, Spokesperson, International Maritime Organization 

Plugging in to a battery-powered future

A number of exciting options are currently being explored by the industry which, says Mr. Adamson, has been given a clear signal of the way forward, thanks to the IMO emissions strategy. These include battery-powered and hybrid ferries, ships trialling biofuels or hydrogen fuel cells, and wind-assisted propulsion.

Norwegian ferry company Color Line, for example, is building the world’s largest plug-in hybrid ship, capable of carrying 2,000 passengers and 500 cars between the towns Strømstad, Sweden, and Sandefjord, Norway.

The battery pack on the boat gives it up to 60 minutes manoeuvring and sailing at speeds of up to 12 knots, which means that the last leg of the two-and-a-half-hour trip, through the fjord that leads to Sandefjord harbour, is emission-free.

Norway is also the home of Brødrene Aa, which builds highly efficient carbon fibre ferries, which, they say, can reduce fuel consumption by up to 40 per cent compared to traditional vessels. The company has developed a concept vessel that runs entirely on batteries and hydrogen, anticipating a future in which zero emissions ferries are the norm.

Partnership for progress

Despite these encouraging signs that a zero-emission future for shipping is possible, action needs to take much faster, warns Mr. Adamson, if the UN’s goals are to be achieved.

    To speed up progress, the IMO is engaged in several major global projects, involving Member States and the shipping industry (see text box below).

    Although investments in low or zero-emission shipping may mean higher costs, business as usual, says the IMO spokesperson, is not an option: “the status quo is not acceptable because of the impact of ship emissions, not just to address climate change, but also on human health and the environment, and that has its own cost which is also borne by society”.

    “The principle of ‘polluter pays’ is well established, and it has to be recognized that shipping is a polluter, in spite of its cost-effectiveness, and somehow that needs to be mitigated”

    IMO-supported projects to cut shipping emissions

    • The Global Industry Alliance to Support Low Carbon Shipping (GloMEEP), supports 10 pilot countries to implement energy-efficiency measures,
    • The Global Maritime Technology Network (GMN) unites maritime tech centres that promote ways to improve energy efficiency in the sector,
    • GreenVoyage-2050 is a collaboration between IMO and the Government of Norway, designed to initiate and promote global efforts to test tech solution for reducing shipping emissions

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